using the past to inform the future: Asian Development Bank

In 2010 in Manila, staff and Alumni at Asian Development Bank were handed a book and cd as part of a new Human Resources strategy, the culmination of an assignment to create a Living Archive for the bank that had begun back in November 2008.


Here is the story of the assignment.

“…the story he told me about his work… made things come alive, and showed where my project fitted into a much larger and more complex picture than I had foreseen or understood.”
Rajat M Nag
| Managing Director General

In November 2008 ADB officials and alumni embarked on a journey to find new ways to share reflections, insights and experience. Recognizing the power of narrative to stimulate dialog and unearth the hidden stories that best illustrate an organization at work, ADB appointed Sparknow LLP, a knowledge and communications consultancy, to help to create a Living Archive and to nurture the individual and collective practices that will allow ADB build a new narrative capacity to marry to the substantial analytical skills it already has.

An exhibit, plenary sessions, a combination of short, structured sessions and more extended oral history interviews, interactive workshops and on location sound recording were techniques employed to capture the content that forms the backbone of an embryonic Living Archive upon which ADB can build.

Today, the Living Archive comprises:

  • a slim book, ADB: Reflections and Beyond, capturing significant events in ADB’s history told through the eyes of some of those who were involved
  • a set of audio clips for use in induction and training
  • a CD featuring the sounds of ADB and Asia as a backdrop to many illuminating reminiscences about working for and in ADB
  • a narrative practitioner manual to support ADB in evolving the processes and practices across the organization.

A small group of determined, enthusiastic and skilled Narrative Practitioners has worked with Sparknow throughout and these people are now equipped to listen for, capture and share stories about ADB, its work and impact on those it seeks to help. These processes and their products can be seeded through all parts of the organization, whether it’s the formation of a community of practice, better handling of a mission debrief, or new ways of evaluating and carrying out after action reviews. ADB’s narrative practitioner team will help to build on the work with Sparknow in 2010 and make the most of the possibilities it has opened up.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2012 and this case study is now part of a publication from the Ark Group entitled Making Knowledge Management Work For Your Organisation”